How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

An Interview with my Son: 30 Years from Now

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I write too much about the present and the past. I’m stuck here, most days, too tired to dip into the future. So, I’m making this post an exercise in time travel. Sometimes, I look into my sons’ eyes and see moments we haven’t yet had. It’s thrilling. And terrifying.

I snapped at Finn tonight enough to make me pause. I’m not proud of it. Too many times politely requesting he brush his teeth. It was totally worth getting slightly heated about it, right? Every moment I make with him feels like a pebble kicked over a cliff’s edge. I can hear the memory ricochet down the walls of his mind and echo throughout. I wonder how he’ll develop and who he’ll grow up to be.

Then, I come back to the present moment and realize there are still pajamas to put on and books to read. “Now” is begging we press on.

But if I let my mind wander, there is a place between my dreams and waking. It whispers memories to come. I can almost hear what my eldest son might say to me about 30 years from now…

EXT. BACK PORCH – DAY

It’s summer and two men, one older than the other, stand on a porch overlooking a small grassy area. The modest barbecue operation before them is in full swing. The elder man, CHARLIE, drink in hand, tilts his head at the younger man, FINN.

ME
Sit down, bug.

FINN
(to himself)
It’s so strange you still call me that.

Finn sits on wooden a chair that’s seen better days.

ME
You’d be surprised how old I think you are. I still get the urge to tickle you.

FINN
Yeah, you never stopped with those bony fingers. But you’d think a guy with a few kids would keep track of that stuff.

ME
That’s why I have you boys. To remind me. All the time. About how grown up you are. Senility has its perks.

Charlie takes a sip.

FINN
Math was never your strong suit, was it?

ME
No. I stuck to war reporting about you kids.

Pregnant pause.

FINN
I never asked you why you did that.

ME
Are you going to now?

Finn smiles.

FINN
No. I’ll let it wait a few more years.

ME
Spoiler alert: I wanted to journal about my thoughts as you grew up.

FINN
Really? Because some of that stuff was pretty personal. Like my bowel movements.

ME
(beat)
I know. There can be a blurry line between honesty and common sense.

FINN
Did it help you? Writing like that?

ME
No. Not always. It entertained me, mostly, to talk about stuff I thought was stressful or ridiculous. You know, parenting is just so fucking hard sometimes. Even with amazing boys like you. It was more about my own faults and trying to find a key to unlocking it through words. There were a couple times I felt better after I wrote. A few times I felt more scared. But mostly I just liked the creative feeling it gave me.

FINN
I get that. But the audience probably expected something from you. You didn’t feel like you had to keep giving them more of it? All two of your readers.

ME
You mean in being personal and opening things up? Nah. I wanted to challenge my own cowardice about being honest. The problem with that is you end up with casualties in privacy. Even if it’s in front of way more than two people. Five.

FINN
Like when you wrote about your sex life with Mom.

ME
Like when I wrote about my sex life. Yeah. That.

Charlie looks at his grandkids for a moment and then stares into his son.

ME
I think I just needed to tell you boys that I loved you and wanted that documented somewhere permanent. For as lasting as love feels, when people are gone… that love feels thinner. My dad was gone before you were born and that was hard. I wanted to state for the record that my love was even deeper because of how hard it was being a parent. That my love will always outweigh that hardship. That you are my greatest achievement.

FINN
You know I love you, right?

ME
It’s one of the pillars I stand on, Finnegan.

34 Comments

34 Responses to “An Interview with my Son: 30 Years from Now”

  1. Jess says:

    And the feels and the feels and the feels feels feels. Great stuff, Charlie.

  2. Christine Taylor says:

    Awesome Way To Make Me Cry. Your Kids Have An Amazing Daddy <3

  3. Robert says:

    ” I wanted to challenge my own cowardice about being honest.”

    Charlie,

    I’m sure you hear this all the time, and I’m also sure it’s a reason you decided to write in the first place… but I don’t know you and I can relate on a level beyond “passing through.” But you connect to people (more than two, and you know it) by relating.

    I often… OFTEN sit and get lost in the future when the present is so important. When you mentioned how getting heated could possibly affect him, but that it was a needed reaction; I fear that all the time… and my kid hasn’t even been born yet.

    I think too much. My friends have told me that… but I’m convinced it’s necessary.

    I enjoyed reading this post a lot.

    Robert
    http://www.thescareddad.com

  4. debbie says:

    Boy, you sure know how to communicate! Thanks.

  5. TwoBusy says:

    A) I really liked your choice in setting this up as a script. Very apropos.

    B) That last big chunk of your dialogue = a really effective summary of some important things you’ve said and written about before… and an excellent synopsis/rationale for why you do all these things you do.

    C) I hope this all comes true.

    • Charlie says:

      A) it’s a contrivance fitting the sensibility about my life often feeling like a film. and, you know, all that other history. not my greatest dialogue, either. which is apropos of my real life, too.

      B) When I wrote that paragraph, I started bawling. It was the clearest I’ve been with myself in a long time.

      C) That may well be true. Time will tell.

  6. Bri says:

    This is beautiful. You are a wonderful dad!! I wish I could have had that growing up, I know your sons will always be so thankful for you.

    • Charlie says:

      I hope they’re thankful for hope I will continue to embarrass, challenge, lead and dump affection into their lives. That’s all I can hope for.

  7. Nick says:

    The future stares at each of us from behind the mirror each day and I hope my relationships are still this strong when I find myself on the side looking out.

    On a different note, I almost expected to see Finn with a Photoshop enhanced beard and you sporting a few streaks of grey when I got as far as your photo, 30 years can change a man!

    • Charlie says:

      I was thinking about asking Andy to do some photoshop magic. But, to be honest, I don’t think I could’ve dealt with seeing that.

      • Nick says:

        I know that feeling. I once enhanced a photo of my son with a mustache and grown-up haircut for a photo just because I could, and ended up shocking myself with how old my then three-year-old looked. Every now and then I stumble upon it and it still makes me a little sad to think of him that way. Ultimately though, I suppose it reminds me to take advantage of the age he’s at now, as it’s a ton of fun, and there’s plenty of time for him to be 30 later.

  8. Kit says:

    Dammit… who brought onions in the room. I don’t even want to think about my son being 33… an me a spry young 30-something

  9. Denise says:

    Lovely. Thank you. I sometimes think about future conversations with my boys, though I haven’t gotten past the high school years.

  10. Michael Z Rork says:

    You know you have way more than 5 readers, right? ;-)

    • Charlie says:

      I do and I don’t. I’m only conscious of who reads the site when I reply to comments (which I haven’t been lately). My mom doesn’t even read it. HA!

      • Michael Z Rork says:

        As someone who’s career depends on the public being interested in what I do, I totally get what you’re saying. What we need to realize though is that we are affecting people who we don’t even realize exist. Plenty of us read your blog regularly and don’t interact with comments or sharing, but it doesn’t mean we don’t read it and get something out of it.

        From all of us who don’t normally comment, or at least from me, I feel enriched reading your blog. From the humor to the personal stories… they help me on my path of being a dad. It’s true that you don’t claim to be dispensing actual advice, but in reality it’s your stories that help the rest of us realize what we’re going through, the thoughts and feelings we’re having… that we aren’t alone. That we’re all going through the same stuff. That we’re all either doing a great job or failing together. That we all have moment where we wish we did better, and moments of pure win.

        Sorry this is a bit rambling and unorganized, but it’s my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. I’m just one random guy in Vermont. And I read your blog. And I value the information. And I know I’m not one of five.

  11. Larry says:

    I often wonder what my boys will be like when they are men, when I am walking behind them. I just hope that I am doing right by them and that they will be men to be proud of.
    Your reason for blogging is sweet – no wonder why grown up Finnegan professes his love. Or he felt guilty.

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